Retail

Published: April 5, 2020 | Updated: April 5, 2020

Inspirational ‘Noodle King’ helps frontline NHS heroes after seeing ‘incredible’ work first-hand

Damien Lee, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Lee’s Noodles.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Inspirational businessman Damien Lee – Bournemouth’s very own ‘Noodle King’ – says he’s determined to do everything possible to help the NHS after witnessing at first-hand the “incredible” efforts of frontline staff.

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mr Lee’s Noodles has been undergoing his 75th cancer treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital Chelsea.

So far it’s involved two five-day sessions of 24-hour chemotherapy separated by ten days.

Now resting at home, 53-year-old Damien said he was “absolutely in awe” of the staff who were working double-shifts, and beyond their normal hours, to cover for colleagues who were off sick or self-isolating.

He said: “I was told that 600 – out of a total staff of 1,200 – were off. That number then increased to 800.

“The message was loud and clear: we need food for our frontline workers.

“They just don’t have the time to go the supermarkets or buy food.

“As a small business we’ll do everything we can to help.

“We’re giving an initial 1,000 cups of noodles separately to Poole Hospital, Royal Bournemouth Hospital. Royal Marsden Hospital Chelsea and the Royal Marsden Hospital Sutton.

“We’ll follow up with more and I estimate that the final number could be in the order of 10,000.”

Damien has also teamed up with Leicester entrepreneur Shane Thakrar.

For every pallet bought and donated at cost price by Shane, Damien & Mr Lee’s are also donating pallets to staff at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

As a result, four pallets, each containing 2,000 cups, have so far made their way to frontline staff.

Damien said: “It’s the least we can do and – within the limits of our business – I’m determined to do everything possible in recognition of their incredible efforts.”

Damien, who moved to Bournemouth from London in 2013 and started a tech company, had his world turned upside down when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Following successful chemotherapy and subsequent recovery, he decided to create a brand of healthy instant noodles with the help of chef Andy Chu.

Mr Lee’s Noodles was launched in 2015.

They are sold in supermarkets across the UK, as well as Europe and Australia, and are stocked on airlines and trains.

The company is now partnering with Seedrs in its largest ever crowdfunding campaign to support the global expansion of Mr Lee’s Noodles into the USA next month.

In July 2017 Damien, who is engaged and has two sons, aged 13 and 11, was diagnosed with a form of neck and throat cancer entirely unconnected to his previous illness.

He has undergone 75 chemo and radiotherapy treatments as well as three surgeries in the past six years.

In January 2019 he was told his cancer was terminal and that he had a few months to live.

Damien receives the award for UK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year.

Ten months later he was crowned UK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneurs Awards.

Despite the current crisis, Damien said Mr Lee’s Noodles faced the future with confidence.

He added: “People always want to eat and we’re a resilient business.

“Post coronavirus and it will be a very different world, just like after 9/11.

“People will have more concerns around health and food security.

“They’ll look to local brands they can trust and that will work in favour of challenger brands like us.

“The immediate priority, though, is to help our incredible NHS.

“We’re all in this together and we all have a part to play – and we’re going to play our part to the full.”

  • Damien is due to appear on Channel 5’s Rich House Poor House this Sunday, April 5, at 9pm, swapping his life with single mum Larissa. The programme gives an insight into Damien’s entrepreneurial life as well as his day to day battle with cancer.